Temperatures aren’t all that soar during warm weather; energy bills climb too as Americans spend an estimated $11 billion a year cooling their homes and workplaces with air conditioning units. However, a new skin-cooling fabric may alleviate some of the economic burden of air conditioning by cooling down people, rather than their environment.

Stanford engineers have developed a low-cost, plastic-based textile that, if woven into clothing, could cool your body far more efficiently than any other type of fabric currently available, they say. The material cools by not only letting perspiration evaporate through the material, but also allowing heat that the body emits as infrared radiation to pass through the plastic textile.

"If you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, that will save energy," said Yi Cui, a researcher involved in the study, in a recent statement.

Our bodies constantly give off heat, and warm clothing and blankets by trapping this heat and sourcing it back to our bodies. However, the cooling clothing would work in an opposite manner; rather than trap the heat, it would allow heat to pass through more efficiently than cotton.

To test the cooling potential of the new fabric against a cotton fabric of comparable thickness, the team placed a small swatch of each material on a surface that was as warm as bare skin and measured how much heat each material trapped. The comparison showed that the cotton fabric made the skin surface 3.6 degrees warmer than their cooling textile. The researchers said this difference means that a person dressed in their new material might feel less inclined to turn on a fan or air conditioner.

To make the polyethylene material more fabric-like, the team blended it together with cotton. Although the prototype is complete, the team is now figuring out a way to mass-produce the product, and make it more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

"If you want to make a textile, you have to be able to make huge volumes inexpensively," Cui said.

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